Presaging a massive expansion of Disney Plus programming, Disney announced on Thursday that Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios will be delivering at least 22 series to the streaming service starting in 2021, with even more series coming from Disney Animation and Pixar Animation. For over two hours during the company’s Investor Day presentation, the heads of each of the company’s creative divisions unspooled an almost overwhelming torrent of new content that heavily emphasized its year-old streaming service.
Feature films released in theaters were only mentioned sporadically; linear television barely got lip service. The overwhelming effect confirmed what industry observers have surmised for months: Bolstered by the rapid subscriber growth that blasted expectations, Disney’s core business is now Disney Plus — and it will continue to be even as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
The sense of scale of the Disney Plus offerings was hinted at early by Kareem Daniel, Disney’s new distribution chief, who opened the presentation by nothing that 10 “Star Wars” series, 10 Marvel series, and 15 Disney and Pixar Animation series will debut on Disney Plus. While Daniel did not specific a time frame, the creative portion of the presentation, introduced by executive chairman Bob Iger, suggested a time horizon stretching into 2023.
Easily the biggest surprise was Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announcing a slate of 10 “Star Wars” series for Disney Plus, the most aggressive creative expansion of the franchise since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. To date, Disney has released five “Star Wars” feature films in theaters and just one series, “The Mandalorian,” on Disney Plus; by 2023, when the next feature “Star Wars” film opens in movie theaters — “Star Wars: Rogue Squadron,” from director Patty Jenkins — that ratio will have not only flipped, but just about toppled the scales.
Among the Disney Plus offerings announced by Kennedy:
• “Andor,” a “Rogue One” prequel series focusing on Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor that’s currently in production and will debut in 2022.
— Star Wars (@starwars) December 10, 2020
• “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen reprising their roles from the prequel movie trilogy, which will go into production in March 2021.
• “The Rangers of the New Republic” and “Ahsoka,” direct spin-offs of “The Mandalorian” from Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. The latter will star Rosario Dawson in the title role she originated on “The Mandalorian,” and all three shows will intersect in “a climactic story event.”
• “Lando,” a new spin-off series from “Dear White People” creator Justin Simien following classic “Star Wars” rogue Lando Calrissian. The character was played by Donald Glover in 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” but it’s unclear if Glover will return for the series.
• “The Acolyte,” a female-centric series, billed as a “mystery-thriller” set in the final days of the High Republic era, from Leslye Headland (“Russian Doll”).
• “Star Wars: The Bad Batch,” the animated follow up to the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
— Star Wars (@starwars) December 10, 2020
• “Star Wars: Visions,” an anthology collection of short films set in the “Star Wars” universe from 10 different Japanese animation creators, which will debut in 2021.
• “A Droid Story,” an animated series from Lucasfilm Animation and Lucasfilm’s visual effects team that sets R2-D2 and C-3PO on a new adventure.
Marvel Studios, by contrast, had already announced eight titles for Disney Plus, almost all of which are in some stage of development or production. “WandaVision” will premiere on Jan. 15; “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” will debut on March 9; “Loki” will debut in May; the animated speculative series “What If…?” will debut in the summer; the live-action series “Ms. Marvel,” currently in production, will debut later in 2021; and “Hawkeye,” with Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld will debut in late 2021. For 2022, “She-Hulk,” with Tatiana Maslany, and “Moon Knight” (cast unannounced) are in the pipeline as well.
Ms. Marvel, a newer character to Marvel comics has grabbed the world's imagination and we are excited to announce Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan.
— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) December 11, 2020
And that would have been enough! But Feige also announced four new titles for Disney Plus:
• “Secret Invasion” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, which Feige billed as “the biggest crossover comic event of the last 20 years,” which is saying something from the man who produced “Avengers: Endgame.”
• “Ironheart,” an “Iron Man” spin-off series focusing on inventor Riri Williams, as played by Dominique Thorne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”).
• “Armor Wars,” based on the 1980s comic book series about what happens when Tony Stark’s technology falls into the wrong hands, starring Don Cheadle as War Machine.
• “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” which writer-director James Gunn will shoot while making “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”
Feige did briefly discuss Marvel Studios’ feature slate, noting, for example, that “Ms. Marvel” star Iman Vellani will appear in “Captain Marvel 2,” and announcing that “Spider-Man: Far From Home” director Jon Watts will direct a new “Fantastic 4” movie. But while Feige debuted several first looks at Marvel’s Disney Plus slate, he only mentioned his feature films in passing — even though both “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals” have both finished production and will also debut in 2021. His focus was all Disney Plus.
Walt Disney Studios chief Sean Bailey also announced a few new animated feature titles for Disney Plus, including an animated “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie; a new “Ice Age” movie, “The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild”; an animated “Night at the Museum” film; and a live-action/animated hybrid feature “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescure Rangers” starring John Mulaney and Andy Samberg — all of them premiering on Disney Plus. And several of the studio’s live action offerings — including “Three Men and a Baby” with Zac Efron, “Cheaper by the Dozen” with Gabrielle Union; “Peter Pan & Wendy” with Jude Law and Yara Shahidi; “Sister Act 3” with Whoopi Goldberg; and “Pinocchio” with Tom Hanks — are all also debuting exclusively on Disney Plus.
The one minor exception to the Disney Plus main street parade was the presentations by Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation. Both Disney Animation head Jennifer Lee and Pixar head Pete Docter also announced a series of new animated series for Disney Plus — many, but not all, spin-offs from established feature film titles. Unlike their (mostly) live-action corporate cousins, however, both Lee and Docter spent as much time showcasing their upcoming feature slates. Considering that the Walt Disney Company began with animation, perhaps it’s fitting that at least those divisions are still eagerly in line, waiting to get back into theaters.